Air & Water: The Context


In this article, a definitive look at what philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and scientists throughout history have thought regarding having healing and emotion-regulating, conscious breathing techniques, and how using these techniques can impact one’s happiness and well-being.

Implementing a Breathing Practice Has Many Health Benefits

Too often we take the basics in life for granted, especially something involuntary like a heartbeat or breathing. As you’ve already learned in previous months, it’s focusing on those things we take for granted every day that can have the biggest positive impact on our lives!

In multiple research studies comparing groups of subjects who implemented a wide variety of breathing practices vs those who did not, the studies have shown these breathing practices can help reduce blood pressure, hypertension, and increased parasympathetic activity (your body’s mechanism for controlling your body’s functions while at rest, including respiration, heart rate & digestion).

An additional technique employed by many studies is a device to help set a slow and steady rhythm for your breathing exercises. Feel free to use a breathing app on your phone, low volume music, or anything else with a slow and steady rhythm.

Water is Fundamental to (a Better) Life!

Life as we know it is made possible (in part) by water. The health benefits of drinking plenty of water throughout the day are already well known. But there’s a lot more to it.

Traditionally, we’ve been recommended to drink 8 glasses (8 oz each) of water per day (although there is a bit of ambiguity starting to pop up in the scientific community regarding this recommendation). But what you should also keep in mind is the type of water you consume. Even if we don’t know what “right” is in terms of the exact number of glasses we need to drink, we know what “wrong” is and there’s great news-there’s an easy way to avoid it!

Multiple scientific studies have built a very compelling case to replace sugary drinks such as soda & sports drinks with plain water. These “SSB” drinks, short for “sugar-sweetened beverages”, have been linked to a variety of health risks including obesity and type 2 diabetes. A fantastic overview of the research into the impact of sugary drinks and the benefits of switching to water is featured in this online article published by The Nutrition Source, a leading authority on food and nutrition knowledge based at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition. Research has shown drinking just one of these SSBs per day without cutting calories from somewhere else in your diet would lead to weight gain of up to 5 pounds per year.

Modern Philosophy, Psychology, & Science

Modern science and psychology have extensively researched the effects of conscious breathing techniques on mental health and well-being. Research has shown that techniques such as deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and breath-focused mindfulness can have positive effects on reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, and improving cognitive performance, emotional regulation, and overall well-being. These techniques are now commonly used in various forms of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and acceptance and commitment therapy.

Modern philosophy has also recognized the benefits of conscious breathing techniques for emotional regulation and well-being. Philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty have written about the importance of the body, including breathing, in shaping our experience of the world and our emotions. Additionally, mindfulness meditation, which often involves conscious breathing, has gained popularity in Western psychology and is recognized for its positive effects on mental health and well-being.

Axial Philosophies Overall

The Axial Philosophies, including Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, postulate the importance of conscious breathing techniques for healing and regulating emotions. These techniques aim to improve one's mental and physical well-being by reducing stress and increasing mindfulness. By focusing on the breath, one can achieve a state of relaxation and improve overall happiness and well-being. 

Confucianism & Daoism

Confucianism emphasizes the importance of "natural breathing," which involves breathing from the diaphragm and expanding the lower abdomen. This type of breathing is believed to promote relaxation and balance emotions. Daoism also emphasizes the importance of breathing techniques, including "sitting and forgetting" meditation, which involves focusing on the breath to achieve a state of stillness and tranquility. Both Confucianism and Daoism view conscious breathing as a means of cultivating inner peace and improving overall well-being.

Hinduism & Buddhism

In Hinduism, conscious breathing techniques such as pranayama are viewed as an essential aspect of spiritual practice and are believed to have a profound impact on one's physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Through pranayama, one can purify the body, calm the mind, and balance the energy within the body, leading to greater happiness and well-being. In addition, yoga asanas or postures are often combined with pranayama to create a holistic practice that promotes health and wellness.

In Buddhism, conscious breathing techniques, such as mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati), are viewed as essential for cultivating mindfulness and reducing suffering. Through conscious breathing, one can develop greater awareness of one's thoughts and emotions and learn to respond to them in a skillful and compassionate manner. This practice is believed to reduce stress, improve emotional regulation, and promote well-being.

Traditional Western Philosophy & Stoics

Traditional Western philosophy, particularly the Stoics, viewed conscious breathing as a means of controlling emotions and promoting inner calm. According to Stoic philosophy, one can achieve a state of equanimity by using breath control to regulate emotions and maintain mental clarity. By cultivating this state of mind, one can achieve a greater sense of well-being and happiness.

Christianity, Judaism, Islam

Christianity does not have specific teachings on conscious breathing techniques for emotional regulation. However, some forms of Christian meditation, such as contemplative prayer, involve focusing on the breath as a means of quieting the mind and connecting with God. This practice is believed to promote inner peace and a deeper sense of spirituality, which can have positive effects on mental health and overall well-being.

Similarly in Judaism, conscious breathing techniques are not explicitly taught for emotional regulation. However, some forms of Jewish meditation, such as hitbodedut or self-secluded prayer, involve focusing on the breath as a means of quieting the mind and connecting with God. This practice is believed to promote inner peace and a deeper sense of spirituality, which can have positive effects on mental health and overall well-being.

In Islam, conscious breathing techniques, such as controlled breathing during prayer or recitation of specific phrases, are often used as a means of increasing focus, reducing stress, and promoting a state of calmness. These techniques are also believed to help with the regulation of emotions, particularly during times of stress or anxiety. Islamic meditation practices, such as Muraqaba, involve focusing on the breath and are believed to have a positive impact on mental health and overall well-being. 


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